Next month 18,000 Kiwis are vying for your vote. They're standing for positions on the board of trustees of one of the country’s 2,500 state and state-integrated schools, and your child’s education is in their hands.
Triennial trustee elections are New Zealand's biggest democratic event after the parliamentary general election. Every three years the parents or legal guardians of students enrolled at a state or state-integrated school are asked to vote for the people who will govern the school in the best interests of the students and community they serve.
The board of trustees is legally and morally responsible for everything happening in the school, from employing the principal to consulting on the health curriculum to ensuring the principal and teachers have the resources they need to ensure every student at the school is safe, happy and getting the best possible education to prepare them for the life ahead.
The role includes developing the school’s strategic direction and educational goals, in partnership with the principal and school community, monitoring student achievement across the school and other aspects of the school’s performance. Also being accountable to government agencies such as the Education Review Office, Ministry of Education and Auditor-General for meeting those goals as well as the curriculum guidelines.
Although voting is restricted to the legal guardians of an enrolled student at a school, voters can nominate anyone to be on the board of trustees, and many people choose to stay on a board long after their children have left.
73-year old Alec Tairua (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine) says parents voices are crucial. He has been a trustee at Clendon Park School in South Auckland since 1989. Alec is the school kaumatua, and a member of the school board. He says his children and grandchildren have all been through the school, and he has stayed. He is proud of the board initiatives he has helped deliver, especially the Māori and Samoan bilingual units and the school’s own marae.
"I think I’ve still got a lot to offer back to the school," he says. "It's to help the community really, and to be involved."
NZSTA President Lorraine Kerr (Ngati Awa, Tuwharetoa) has been a trustee for 30 years at four schools, including Kuratau School near Taupo, where she is currently on the board of trustees, and says the role is hugely rewarding.
"I love the fact there’s a group of people around the board table who are from the community, and we are in a position to make a real difference to the education our students get. And being able to make sure our teachers and principal have the resources and the support they need to do their best work.
"Sometimes that means challenging ourselves or our principal to do things better than we are – and that’s part of it too. Support isn’t always being warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it’s being a pillar to lean on, sometimes it’s being the critical friend who says ‘We can do better, and we need to do better. What do you need from us to make that happen?"
What about the Tomorrows Schools report?
Kerr says this year’s election is particularly important, coming after the Tomorrows Schools Taskforce report.
"This year we can either fold up our tent and go home, and say yes they were right, the only people who know anything worth knowing about what our kids need are the bureaucrats and the teachers, or we can stand up, look them in the eye and say ‘We’re better than that, and this is why.'
"They’re trying to develop a one-size-fits-all model for schools, whether you’re a large urban secondary school or a small rural primary school," Kerr says. "I don’t believe it will work."
"Let’s be honest, the system is not broken. There are parts of it that definitely need sorting out, and boards of trustees have been saying that for years - along with a lot of other people. But why would you throw out a system where most schools are functioning well, and some of them are doing amazing things. Why would you throw that away?"
Kerr says it’s a myth boards are made up of people who don’t know enough about the education system.
"What people don’t realise is that most boards have a combination of professionals and parents. Lots of people are actually both at the same time, and having kids at the school doesn’t stop you being a good lawyer or accountant or builder. And every board also has the principal and a staff trustee, elected by the staff of the school. The more varied the perspective, the richer the board," she says. "The board of trustees may not cost much, but it’s value is huge."
Lorraine’s message is simple: "Being part of your school’s board of trustees, you can make a difference for every child within the school, including your own. This means you’re touching the lives of every family with a child at your school. That’s a powerful lot of difference you can make.
"Please, don’t hold back – step forward and help us make that difference."
Nominations take place from May 10 - 24, with voting on June 7. Click here for information.
This article is created for School Trustee Elections.